Events

The Transatlantic Relationship on the Eve of European Union Enlargement

April 28, 2004 // 12:00pm2:00pm

The Transatlantic Relationship on the Eve of European Union Enlargement
April 28, 2004
Staff-prepared summary of the EES noon discussion with Günter Burghardt, Ambassador, Delegation of the European Commission and Avis Bohlen, former US Ambassador and Wilson Center Fellow.

This meeting marked the latest achievement in the process of European integration, as 10 new member states were about to enter the European Union (EU) on May 1, 2004. Günter Burghardt began by noting the extent to which the political landscape in Europe has been transformed. Three hundred years ago, the Treaty of Westphalia initiated a system in which international actors were sovereign states, working bilaterally with each other. This system has been evolving slowly and quietly since World War II, in an effort to maintain peace on the continent. Recently, these modest changes have picked up speed and intensity. Since November 9, 1989, the EU has been implementing a plan to deepen European integration and widen its borders to encompass postcommunist Europe. May 1, 2004, therefore, is a triumphant date for the EU, extending the reach of this important international institution.

Despite this big step, Burghardt asserted that the basic concept of the EU has not changed, but that it continues to further the goal of overcoming potential conflict through a community decision-making structure. Moreover, the EU has had more than a decade to prepare for this latest enlargement. Since 1989, the EU has been working to reintegrate postcommunist Europe into the EU, and has been following a carefully planned ‘roadmap' for the complex program of widening its borders and deepening cooperation.

The US which after all was "present at the creation of the EU" has been an important partner in this process. If the Marshall Plan is seen as an investment in Europe, then the US should be very pleased, Burghardt noted, that it has had a substantial return of this investment, in the form of EU aid to the postcommunist region, which is estimated to be around $16 billion. The EU is an important partner to the US, and this partnership has important historic, economic and human dimensions.

This wave of enlargement is not without its problems, the most obvious of which is the large prosperity gap between old and new member states. This wave of enlargement also begs the question: where do the frontiers of Europe end? Already, the countries of Southeast Europe are attempting to get in on the heels of the current 10 new member states.

Offering an American perspective of this important event, Avis Bohlen described two divergent views of the EU from the US. The majority in the US view the EU with "ambivalent support." This camp holds that a successful EU is preferable to its failure and sees the EU as a reality that needs to be taken into account. This view is not altogether favorable, as there is frustration from the US regarding the slow decision-making process within the EU and the seeming inability of the EU to pull its weight politically and militarily on the world stage. The second camp views the EU with "contemptuous hostility," since it sees the EU as diluting US power, and as a largely dispensable institution. This group of neoconservatives is frustrated and impatient with the EU's preference for multilateral action, negotiation and compromise, and with its reluctance to use force. Neocons also see the EU as a potential competitor, which is therefore inimical to US interests.

The assessment of the transatlantic relationship after enlargement is viewed positively from both American viewpoints. While the first camp sees enlargement as an historic achievement and admires the process for its effectiveness, the neoconservatives see enlargement as impeding the development of the EU, and therefore diluting the influence of countries such as France, which they see as rivals of the US. Moreover, the neocons hope that with "new Europe" in the EU, the US will hold greater sway over the EU.

Clearly, Bohlen mentioned, EU enlargement is overshadowed by the bitterness between the US and the EU over the Iraq war, and for the first time since the post-WWII era, there is a sizable gap of people opposed to US hegemony. Nevertheless, the US-EU relationship remains the most important in the international system, and the US believes that the current enlargement is an historic achievement. Moreover, many in the US government recognize and appreciate how effective and efficient the process of enlargement has been in pushing through liberal-democratic reform in the region, and hope that the blueprint can be applied to Southeast Europe as well.

Experts & Staff

  • Christian F. Ostermann // Director, History and Public Policy Program; Global Europe; Cold War International History Project; North Korea Documentation Project; Nuclear Proliferation International History Project
  • Emily R. Buss // Program Assistant

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